Home Campus Advisory group releases final recommendations for freedom of expression policy

Advisory group releases final recommendations for freedom of expression policy

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Protestors resisted Ohio U policies at the Y(OU) Can't Silence Dissent protest. Photo by Marilyn Icsman.

The group voted 8-2 to not allow protest inside the Baker Center rotunda, the location of notable past protests such as the infamous Baker 70 demonstration .

An Ohio University advisory group submitted its final recommendations to Ohio U President Duane Nellis advising changes to the school’s interim freedom of expression policy on April 2.

The 10 member committee largely voted together on changes to the current “Freedom of Expression” policy that prohibits protest inside all Ohio U buildings. When this interim policy was passed before the fall semester of 2017, it was met with heavy opposition from the Ohio U community.

“We supported a policy that above all else, favored student safety, but also favored the right to protest,” advisory group member and Ohio U Student Senate President Landen Lama said.

The new recommendations don’t entirely ban indoor protests, but they do suggest limiting what university spaces can be used for protests.

“The university must ensure that people can pass safely through lobbies, hallways and similar spaces,” the recommendation reads.  

The group voted 8-2 to not allow protest inside the Baker Center rotunda, the location of notable past protests such as the infamous Baker 70 demonstration .

“The Baker Center rotunda is a major thoroughfare and crossroads for pedestrians on campus, with a high volume of foot traffic along multiple paths of travel in a confined space,” the recommendation suggests. “Gatherings there may easily impede pedestrians moving in and out of the building, as well as use of the escalators.

In a 6-4 vote, the group also recommended prohibiting demonstrations inside Cutler Hall. Cutler Hall houses offices for senior Ohio U administrators, including the university president and provost.

The opinion of the majority is that “protests or demonstrations inside Cutler Hall could impede administrative functions that are essential to campus safety and normal operations.” They state that “there is no constitutional right to ‘sit-in’ or occupy administrative offices, and groups have ample ways to convey concerns other than by assembling within office suites.”

The report recommends that students instead gather outside of Cutler Hall on College Green or in adjacent spaces.

The dissenting group members wrote that “singling out Cutler in particular, an understandable and justifiable magnet for protest given that protesters often want to deliver a message to the University President and Provost, would taint the university’s endorsement of free speech.”

“Of course freedom of expression should happen on campus,” Lama said. “The points of engagement when there are protests should primarily happen through administrators, but police have to be involved.”

In past protests such as the Baker 70, attempts to de escalate the demonstrations were primarily headed by police. In the case of the Baker 70, students who didn’t disperse were charged with criminal trespassing.

Administrators acting as the primary link to students aims to prevent further police involvement.

“The culture of campus protest has changed. It’s become more decentralized,” Lama said. “Back in the day, you knew who the leader was and they had clear demands. Today, you don’t know who the leader is. You have demands – but not clear demands.”

“That was a main issue with the Baker 70. There was no one willing to step up and be the negotiator from the protestors side.”

Lama feels that organization is key to changing the “culture” of campus expression. Protesters taking ownership for their actions will help both sides de escalate, he said.

The Executive Staff Policy Committee will review the recommendations and create a new “Freedom of Expression” policy. This will then be reviewed by Ohio U senate groups.

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